We’ve known for some time that wood is a sustainable building material. With proper forest management, trees are planted before others are harvested, allowing wood floors to be an environmentally friendly option for generations of floor owners. But what about the hardwood floor refinishing process? Is this also sustainable when compared to replacing the flooring material?
In 2019, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL), sought to understand the environmental impact of refinishing compared to replacing flooring materials. Founded in 1966, IVL is a Sweden-based environmental research agency that focuses on projects that study the holistic interaction among the environment, economy, business, and society. The 12-month study looked at the impact of refinishing versus replacing wood or resilient flooring material in commercial buildings throughout Sweden. Every year, 25 million square meters of flooring is installed in Sweden, and building and construction accounts for one-fifth of Sweden’s climate impact. These factors offered an ideal landscape for the research project.
IVL invited Bona, headquartered in Malmo, Sweden, to participate in the study, with the caveat that all findings would be shared publicly and other refinishing systems reviewed. The study, which is titled, “Increasing Resource Efficiency in the Swedish Flooring Industry Through Floor Refinishing,” begins with a life-cycle analysis of the floor installation and refinishing process. It then is followed by a roadmap including a strategic plan to define desired outcomes and outline actions to overcome barriers.
The study was a cradle-to-grave assessment, which means the whole life cycle for refinished and new flooring was considered. This included extraction, production, and transportation of raw materials and products, installation of flooring and refinishing, as well as end-of-life management. The study did not include the impact from floor maintenance and cleaning. IVL used the Bona System for assessing wood floor refinishing and the Bona Commercial System for PVC/resilient floor refinishing.
In 2020, IVL released the findings. Refinishing a wood floor saves 79 percent more carbon emissions than replacing the flooring surface. Refinishing resilient floor surfaces can offer up to 92 percent reduction in carbon footprint versus replacing. Additionally, refinishing hardwood or resilient floors offers a 95 percent savings in energy resources, which is measured by transportation, electricity use, consumables, and materials.
Good News for Wood
The IVL report provides another strong data point proving the value of wood floors. The demand for sustainable building and renovation is increasing in market value and homeowner interest. A report from Emergen Research shows that the green construction industry was valued at $264 billion in 2019, with a projected year-over-year growth rate through 2024 estimated at 11.4 percent. Wood is a primary material for many sustainable building projects, and the IVL data lends another perspective of wood’s longevity and environmental value.
While other flooring made from recycled materials may claim sustainability, it has a shorter lifespan. Once the material is worn or damaged, it is torn out, often tossed into a landfill, and replaced with a new floor. As the IVL study proves, tearing out and replacing flooring material has a much greater impact on carbon emissions.
Maria Ahlm, co-author of the IVL report, said, “The norm today is new and fresh. Sales of new flooring material are supported by the linear business model we have in the construction industry today, and refinishing is often perceived as more difficult. However, our analysis and final roadmap support that, in addition to the decrease in carbon footprint, floor refinishing is a viable alternative to increase resource efficiency in the industry.”
The report also supports new wood floor installation. Wood floors not only offer a beautiful, natural aesthetic, but a floor owner can be assured that for the life of that floor, they can sustainably refresh and refinish the floor.
As the building and renovation industry continues to trend toward more sustainable options, it is good news for the wood floor industry. Coupled with the long-standing data supporting the environmental value of wood, this new study adds another valuable perspective. Wood offers promise for a greener, more sustainable future.
Kirk Roberts is senior vice president of strategic development for Bona US in Englewood, Colorado. To learn more about Bona, visit www1.bona.com/en-us/professional.